Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Note to Self

Dear Self,

Some days will discourage you. Personal goals and productivity will rush out the door like fire drill sergeants. Energy and enthusiasm will ebb, not flow. Distractions will distract and critics will criticize. They'll buffet your sense of control and good intention.

You might be playing the part of husband or dad, pastor or peer, child of God or recovering egoist. Discouragement crouches at every door.

On days like this you might want to give up and move away. That cabin in the woods will whisper to you. That green grass will lure you to another side. That new start will promise to revive you.

Don't buy it. Don't cash out. Don't move on.

You've had those days. They've come and gone. Frustrations always abated. Anxieties  always dwindled. Ambition always rebounded. Personal experience has borne witness: New mercies come in the morning.

Believe me, Self.

More importantly, believe God's Word. He said it first: Tomorrow will take care of itself; and God will take you, Self.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sloppy, Good Service

I found two rotting bananas on a tray in our church auditorium. They were leftovers from Sunday's Fellowship Time. Ellie had been walking around offering fruit and donuts to people in our congregation. Every week she assumes the role of server. She carries trays of salty and sweet snacks to folks as they mingle in hallways and around their chairs. Week after week, Ellie delivers the goods.

Other kids have played the role of server, but none with the consistency and charm that Ellie radiates.  I have a hard time turning down the cherubic six-year old. Her large brown eyes take the teardrop shape of a Precious Moments sketch, and she asks, "You want some?" I grab a donut hole.

Minutes later she returns with a new supply. "You want some?" I snatch a plate of pretzel sticks.

She comes by three more times before the music starts. "You want some?" Apple slices. Chex Mix. Off-brand Oreo cookies. She cannot be denied. (I should have her collect the offering.)

Ellie and her sister Annie at Leesburg Fall Festival.

Ellie is effervescent as she serves, but not flawless. On more than one occasion, I've witnessed her mishandle the tray. Edibles plummet to the floor. And without a moment's hesitation, she snatches them up, repositions them on the tray, and targets the next customer, as if nothing ever happened.

"You want some?"

This is sloppy, good service at our church. We allow kids like Ellie to help at  an early age. We show grace and practice the two-second rule. We eat things we don't want in the name of Jesus. And every so often, we have leftover bananas.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Ode to Zelda the Wondercat

Zelda didn’t come home after the most recent rain storm. Two days passed before we took notice. After three days, we pronounced her dead. Her departure comes as no surprise.

For the past few years Zelda the Wondercat fought routine seizures, exercised poor grooming habits, and showed signs of savagery. No amount of food and water satisfied her. Litter box instinct abandoned her. And her behavior at doorways betrayed a feline version of dementia: She never seemed certain if she wanted to be inside or outdoors. Twenty times a day: in she came/out she went/in she came/out she went.

And then the cycle stopped. After twelve years, seven homes, and three states, her quiet death in some uncertain shrub, window well, or alley feels anticlimactic and, perhaps, a bit unjust. Although, I suppose her incessant meowing and late burst of affection was Zelda’s way of telling us she was nigh on life number nine. She never did learn English.

We searched our basement, garage, and neighbors bushes for her body, but to no avail. She left nothing to bury. All we are left with is a brand new container of litter and memories. When we finally broke the news to our children, Claire did not miss a beat. "That means I can get a lizard." We nixed that idea. A little respect for the dead is a learned behavior.

Godspeed, Zelda the Wondercat. May God take you where the fleas don't bite and you seize no more.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hacksaws and Sermon Preparation

On Sunday morning I cut open twelve tennis balls with a hacksaw. I had to stop at Walmart on the way to the church building to purchase said tennis balls. I had to travel back and forth to my father-in-law's home to retrieve the wallet I left on the kitchen table to purchase said tennis balls. In total, I dedicated forty-five minutes to preparing a craft for my wife's Sunday School class instead of preparing for the sermon. (My offer.)

This is a typical Sunday morning for a disorganized pastor of a small church. If there was such thing as a perfect routine to prepare for preaching, I don't have one. The content is finished by Thursday night; its execution on Sunday morning is a blur.

Sometimes I drive through McDonald's for coffee. Other times I stop at Walmart for donuts, craft supplies or object lessons. When I arrive to the church I turn on some lamps in my office, brew a pot of coffee (if I've not gone to McD's), print my notes, visit the bathroom several times, declutter the common areas, upload the PowerPoint, send reminders via text, and rush to distribute Sunday School lessons and a flow of worship before the sound guys and worship band arrives. 

I always intend to quiet my heart and pray more than I do. I always expect to reserve time for one more read-through of the passage. I always plan on meditating on my major points longer than I do. I always hope to be focused, orderly, and stationed with a grin on my face at the front door to greet the first volunteer who walks in. But more often than not, my face is locked into the computer, hammering out last minute notes, or else I'm blazing through the hallways on a mission to locate my misplaced Bible.

I suppose I could make better use of my time on Thursdays to insure all the details for Sunday morning are in place. Perhaps I wouldn't feel so hectic. Perhaps it would result in greater clarity during my messages. Perhaps I could create a more welcoming environment if I weren't crouched on the floor wielding a hacksaw as people walked in.

Then again, there is something respectable about a pastor who prepares with hacksaw. He keeps you guessing. Predictability is overrated.